Photography at Transit Station Can Merit Inquiry by Security Officers, Police Say

Phoenix police confirmed on Tuesday that a local photographer was questioned in late March for taking pictures at a transit station -- and that such questioning is routine.

Following a police memo put out last May, Phoenix security officers have been contacting people observed observed taking pictures at Central Station with the aim of preventing a terrorist attack, New Times has learned. Central Station is a bus and light rail terminal at Central Avenue and Van Buren Street in downtown Phoenix.

Phoenix police are in the process of softening the directive slightly since media reports about the photographer who was questioned, says Phoenix police Lt. Anthony Lopez of the transit bureau. Lopez says Central Station's supervisory officer, Sgt. Scot Gillespie, wrote the memo last year that spurred the municipal security guards to begin contacting more picture-takers. It reads:

This memorandum is to address the concerns of citizens taking photographs while on Central Station Property.

Citizens are allowed to take photographs while on Central Station Property. However, we need to remain diligent with our duties and contact them to obtain as much information as possible, without giving the impression we are interrogating them. Take the information and log it on your daily log with the reason they are taking photos. If they are acting suspicious complete a full 36 card and place it in my box. This will let the citizens know we are paying attention to this type of activity.

Lopez says he knows "most people don't like being approached by a police officer," and that police fully expected to get complaints because of the directive.

These days, though, the addition of light rail, the opening of the downtown Arizona State University campus and a nearby park under construction have all made the original memo too cumbersome, he says. Central Station is busier than ever, and lots of people are snapping pictures. Lopez says he's editing a new memo that instructs guards to contact photographers less frequently.

The guards should remain "diligent," but if they believe a picture-taker is just a tourist, they don't have to contact the person, he says. Still, the guards will keep questioning folks whose picture-taking appears suspicious in some way, but they'll do in a "professional" manner.

If the guard has a gut feeling something's awry, he or she can ask for the photographer's ID and take down the info "as a last resort," Lopez says. If the photographer refuses to cooperate, the guard can evict the person from Central Station -- which, technically, is reserved for transit customers -- onto the surrounding sidewalk.

Here is Lopez's account of last week's incident involving local artist William J. Nash-McAdam (his self-potrait at right), relayed to him by "MSG" (municipal security guard) Luis Eriguchi:

No, photography is not a crime in Phoenix.

However, members of the public should be aware that their actions in and around critical public infrastructure or other high profile infrastructure will get the attention of the staff that are entrusted to protect that site. In the case of the author of the article; he and his friend were approached by MSG Eriguchi because of their activities. MSG Eriguchi did
ask them what they were doing and determined because they appeared to be taking pictures of the nearby art piece situated just north, that their activities were not illegal or unreasonable. The only way for him to determine the legitimacy of their presence at Central Station was, through a consensual contact, to engage them in meaningful conversation. It is also common practice for staff to ask for I.D. and to write the names
down on a combination report card.

Without being prompted, MSG Eriguchi provided me a memorandum [the one we posted above] ...

It appears the MSG attempted to justify his actions by conveying to the citizens that if they tried to take pictures at other facilities like the Federal Building, Chase Bank, light rail, stadiums or the airport, that they could expect a response from staff at those facilities. Instead, I think his comments were misconstrued as fact that photography at these other sites was illegal. Our MSG knows better.

Given this recent contact with a photographer combined with the upcoming grand opening of the art structure next to Central Station, I will have my supervisors re-revisit this issue with staff and use the memorandum as a tool. It may be that MSG Eriguchi could have brushed this situation more lightly, however it appears he knows that photography in Phoenix is not illegal and he followed policy by asking questions during a consensual contact at a city facility and documented it in his log.

After receiving the e-mail from Lopez this afternoon, Valley Fever decided to make a quick trip to Central Station with our trusty digital camera.

To our disappointment, no one hassled us (but we did obtain the blogworthy snapshots used in this post).

At one point, Phoenix police Sgt. D. O'Dell of Central Station walked right by us as we were snapping away, so we asked him why we weren't being questioned. He chuckled and said he might have been concerned had he seen us "pacing off" distances in the station, (something a would-be bomber might do, apparently).

Nevertheless, it's obvious from Lopez's statements that people taking pictures at Central Station will keep getting stopped by the authorities from time to time.

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Ray Stern has worked as a newspaper reporter in Arizona for more than two decades. He's won numerous awards for his reporting, including the Arizona Press Club's Don Bolles Award for Investigative Journalism.